Custody battles are not conducted to see who the better parent is, but rather which party is better suited to raising the child and providing a safe and suitable home. In determining custody, the courts prioritize the best interests of the child(ren). In cases with older children, the courts may also consider the child’s wishes. Overall, a parent’s primary concern should be the child’s quality of life, rather than “winning” or “losing”
Types of Custody
There are two primary types of custody. The first form is physical custody, which answers the question of who the child lives with. Often, joint custody arrangements are made where one parent has primary parental responsibility and the other is granted equal parenting time. In some cases, a parent will be granted a majority, or all, of the custody. This is typically the case when a parent is seen unfit, whether it be for living conditions, substance abuse, or physical abuse in the home.
The second form of custody is legal custody, which involves the right to make important decisions for the minor child, such as health care, education, welfare, and other decisions that a minor cannot make without legal emancipation. Coparenting strategies may incorporate a more collaborative approach to decision making.
When the term custody battle is mentioned, most people think of the common scenario of two parents trying to obtain full custody rights over their child. However, there are more instances where relatives can attempt to obtain rights when reports of abuse are brought to the attention of authorities. Children who are forcibly removed from their homes have been shown to experience behavioral problems, developmental disturbances, drops in academic performance, and long-lasting psychological trauma. As such, social workers first ascertain if the child can be safely placed in the care of close relatives, such as grandparents, aunts and uncles, or other guardians so that the child will not have to leave his or her life entirely. Schools, friends, activities, and other aspects of the child’s life are kept in mind to better place the child in an environment.
Influences of a Custody Decision
In a divorce, a social worker may be called upon to perform evaluations on both parties and determine where the best place would be for the needs of the child in question. Living conditions, allegations of abuse, substance use, untreated mental health problems, financial stability, and the likelihood of parental alienation are typically considered. Fatal mistakes an individual may make in a custody battle are:
- Trash-talking the other parent, whether to the child or other adults
- Unwillingness to co-parent, or threats of alienating the child from the other parent
- Substance abuse or mental health problems that go untreated
- Violence within the family home, toward the other parent, or directly toward the child(ren)
- Unfit living conditions, whether in regards to cleanliness, stability, or exposure to unsafe environments.
Another consideration social workers will have in mind for legal custody is who will be more likely to offer visitation rights to the parent who lost custody. It is vital to have cordial relations with the ex-spouse to minimize the impact divorce has on the child.